Stretch, hydrate to prevent ski injuries

Lauren Glendenning
Vail Correspondent
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
NWS Beav opens 3 KA 11-25-09

VAIL, Colorado – Vail’s current snow conditions aren’t providing any soft landings – all the more reason to pay attention to advice on preventing ski and snowboard-related injuries.

Some locals never get out of the ski season mindset. There are ski conditioning classes that began in October, and some travel south of the equator for summertime skiing in places like Chile and New Zealand.

There are even those who skate around the valley every summer on roller skis, a mix between cross country skis and roller skates.

For those not in tip-top shape when ski season arrives, there are a few tips that can help.

Dr. Bill Sterett, the head team physician for the U.S. Women’s Alpine Ski Team and a partner at the Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Vail, said the single most important thing skiers and riders can do the day of skiing is stretching before hitting the slopes.

Bodies are like rubber bands – when they’re cold they can easily snap, but a warmed up rubber band can stretch out a lot farther, he said.

While being in generally good physical shape is one of the best ways to prevent injury, Sterett said there are two really important tasks to keep in mind while skiing and snowboarding: stay hydrated – with water, not alcohol – and take breaks.

“As soon as people are skiing more than three hours without a break, the injury rate goes up about five-fold,” Sterett said. “Three hours seems to be a big benchmark for skiers.”

Even a 10-minute break to grab a glass of water and use the bathroom is useful, he said.

There’s a peak in injuries around the noon hour, Sterett said, which he relates to a lack of rest among skiers and riders who got on the mountain around 8:30 a.m. He suspects future research could show injuries becoming common in a smaller time frame because high-speed chair lifts allow skiers to fit more runs into shorter periods of time.

Skiers and snowboarders can suffer similar injuries, but certain injuries are more common to each sport. Generally speaking, Sterett said skiers have more ligament injuries and snowboarders have more fractures.

Vail Summit Orthopedics have participated in studies on everything from injury-types to whether certain equipment can help prevent injuries among snowboarders.

One study showed no difference in foot and ankle injuries across the different types of snowboarding boots – hard, soft or hybrids – and another study proved wrist injuries are the most common snowboarding injuries.

“In the light of the relatively high prevalence of wrist injuries in snowboarders, especially in beginners and skeletally immature riders, we strongly advocate the use of protective wrist splints for all snowboarders,” wrote Doctors Paul Abbott and Peter Janes, and physician assistant Jan Idzikowski, all of Vail Summit Orthopaedics, in one report.

Using exercises that mimic skiing and snowboarding are great ways to get in shape, according to Brad Schoenthaler, a physical therapist with Howard Head Sports Medicine. Schoenthaler recommends wall sits, which imitate a tucked skiing position and isolate the quadriceps muscle.

He also suggests forward and side lunges, which strengthen the hip and hamstring, and “short burst, high-intensity exercises that help produce fast and powerful movements.”

Sterett said locals shouldn’t get too comfortable just because they’re already acclimated to this elevation. He said an out-of-towner who does a good job of working out and stretching in the morning is probably less likely to get hurt than a local who doesn’t do anything.

Overall, there are about two to three ski and snowboard injuries per every 1,000 skiers and riders on the mountain. These tips should help you avoid being one of them.

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